Posts Tagged ‘Variety’

The Men Who Portrayed Babe Ruth

Friday, February 17th, 2017

To say that Babe Ruth was a dominant force is like saying that Mount Vesuvius spewed a little lava.

Firmly stands the Babe in popular culture, in part because of portrayals in films.  “The pattern of the drama, with its Horatio Alger stamp—rags to riches and romance—is obviously contrived, and the personal characterizations are all of them second-grade stock,” wrote the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther of the 1948 movie The Babe Ruth Story.   “Mr. [William] Bendix is straight from the smoke-house and Claire Trevor pulls all the heart-throb stops as a little showgirl who marries the great man and sticks by through thick and thin.”

Bendig was a character actor famed for “playing all manner of lugs, both loveable and dangerous,” according to his biography on the Turner Classic Movies web site.  Credits include the Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat, the Abbott & Costello movie Who Done It?, and the 1964 thriller Seven Days in May.  Perhaps Bendix’s best-known role was the title character in the 1950s television series The Life of Riley.

Babe Ruth, a 1991 NBC tv-movie, starred Stephen Lang as the Babe, Donald Moffat as Jacob Ruppert, and Bruce Weitz as Miller Huggins.  Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times lauded, “Lang has some of the size to play Ruth and, with tutoring from Rod Carew, the right-handed actor has developed a fairly convincing left-handed stroke and, with makeup, a prominent nose to match.”  Richard Huff of Variety also praised Lang—“he does his job convincingly.”

Art LaFleur played Babe Ruth in a dream sequence in the 1994 film The Sandlot.  Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, the best player on his sandlot baseball team, has a dream in which he talks with the Yankee slugger, who offers him advice on confronting “The Beast,” a dog guarding the house belonging to the baseball field’s neighbor; balls are gone forever when the kids hit them over the fence.  One particular ball poses a major problem for Scotty Smalls, a newcomer who’s unfamiliar with baseball—he brings a ball owned by his stepfather to the sandlot; it’s signed by Babe Ruth.  When Benny hits it over the fence, it’s gone forever.  Presumably.

Ruth’s ghost counsels Benny, “Everybody gets one chance to do something great.  Most people never take the chance, either ’cause they’re too scared or they don’t recognize it when it spits on their shoes.  This is your big chance, and you shouldn’t let it go by.  Remember when you busted the guts out of the ball the other day?  Someone’s telling you something, kid.  If I was you, I’d listen.”

As Ruth disappears, he offers final words of inspiration:  “Remember, kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends.  Heroes get remembered.  But legends never die.  Follow your heart, kid.  And you’ll never go wrong.”

Eventually, “The Beast” is discovered to be a friendly, humongous dog named Hercules.  His owner is a former Negro League ballplayer, portrayed by James Earl Jones.

In the 1992 film The Babe, John Goodman embodied the Sultan of Swat.  Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that Goodman was “ideally cast.”  In an interview with Clifford Terry of the Chicago Tribune, Goodman offered insight to Ruth’s boisterous, almost childlike nature.  “I don’t think the Babe had an underlying meanness,” said Goodman.  “It was maybe an emptiness in the middle.  I read an interesting quote that I tried to use as much as I could.  Somebody who knew him quite well was asked about him, and he said, ‘You know, I don’t think Babe ever loved anybody in his life.’  I based most everything on Robert Creamer’s outstanding … biography.  For example, I watched a lot of old film, but I could never figure out how to do Ruth’s home-run trot until I read a simple description of it in the book, and I was in.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 6, 2016.

Baseball, New Jersey, and “The Sopranos”

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Lou Costello appeared in two episodes of HBO’s The Sopranos.  Sort of.

New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano of the DiMeo crime family used Paterson’s statue of the comedian as a meeting spot in two episodes; Paterson is Costello’s home town.  In “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Tony saw the recent import of Furio from Italy as an ignition to rearrange his familial paradigm.  Costello’s statue, a New Jersey landmark, offered symbolism to a confab between Tony and Paul, a mobster who once worked for Tony’s father.

In his 2002 book The Sopranos on the Couch:  The Ultimate Guide, Maurice Yacowar explained, “Furio’s arrival creates some possible problems for Tony.  He coaxes Artie into providing a job front for Furio’s immigration, as master cheesemaker.  Only later, meeting outside The Lou Costello Memorial, does Tony inform Paul.  The site suggests the comical sidekick that Paulie fears he is becoming.  Lou’s statue stands parallel behind Paulie in one shot, and looms over him, hat befouled, in another.  But that is rather Pussy’s fate, as Tony promotes Paulie and Silvio and leaves Pussy to report to them.”

Tony met with rival boss Phil Leotardo at the Costello statue in “Cold Stones” to discuss the storm surrounding Vito Spatafore’s homosexuality.  While this presented a problem for Tony and his old school associates, the issue went deeper for Phil—Vito is a cousin, hence, a betrayer of bloodline.  Ultimately, two underlings beat Vito to death while Phil watches.

Costello’s statue portrays the rotund funnyman—one half of the comedy team Abbott & Costello, the duo responsible for “Who’s on First,” perhaps the greatest comedy routine ever—bearing a grin, wearing a derby, and casually resting a bat on his left shoulder.  “Who’s on First” contains Costello feverishly trying to deduce the names of the players on a ball club, with Abbott trying to explain that Who’s on first, What’s on second, etc.

Another baseball reference appeared in the episode “Down Neck” during a flashback scene set in 1967, when Tony discovered that his uncle and his father—Corrado “Junior” Soprano and John “Johnny Boy” Soprano—operate in a criminal sphere of society.  As Junior picks up Johnny Boy to begin their daily duties, he lauds a certain Yankee to his nephew:  “Hey! Did ya hear the game last night?  Joey Pepitone!  Three RBI’s!”

In addition to the Paterson site, New Jersey filming locations for The Sopranos included the Pulaski Skyway, the Asbury Park boardwalk, and Newark Penn Station.

The Sopranos burst onto television screens on January 10, 1999 with James Gandolfini playing Tony Soprano, a Garden State mafia don prone to panic attacks.  In Variety, Phil Gallo wrote, “Gandolfini does a lot with body language, and his mood is nicely limned in virtually every scene; it can be summed up as a midlife crisis, yet it feels like so much more; life will never be the same.  Eventually, Tony Soprano’s only comfortable with a handful of friends and his psychiatrist.”

Upon HBO’s rerunning the first season in the summer of 1999, Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote, “‘The Sopranos,’ more than any American television in memory, looks, feels and sounds like real life.  Watch any episode and you’re likely to come away with the queasy feeling of having consumed a greasy slice of late-90’s America with its surreal mature of prosperity and brutishness.  Tony, a northern New Jersey mob boss in his early 40’s, isn’t an exotic evil king holed up in a fortified stone castle.  He is a middle-class family man who, except for his occupation, is pretty much like the rest of us.”

The Sopranos finished its run in 2007.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 20, 2016.

The World of Howard Beale

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

RemingtonIn 1976, Americans were mad as hell.  And they didn’t want to take it anymore.

The fury, of course, was depicted in an iconic scene from the movie Network.  Before FOX constituted a legitimate fourth television network in the 1980s, the triad of CBS, ABC, and NBC governed the airwaves on a network level.

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Barry Williams, Greg Brady, and 4222 Clinton Way

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

RemingtonGrowing Up Brady, by Barry Williams with Chris Kreski, exposed life behind the scenes of The Brady Bunch; it was, for Baby Boomers who saw the show’s original broadcast and Generation Xers who feasted on reruns, a fascinating, revealing, and titillating look at one of television’s most famous shows.

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Everything’s Archie (Part 2 of 2)

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Archie comics inspired two live-action music-comedy television specials in the 1970s.  ABC haired a one-hour special simply titled Archie on December 19, 1976.

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Nancy Sinatra Goes To Vietnam

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Seductive songs.  Soft sounds.  Sex symbol.  Sinatra.

No, not that one!  Nancy Sinatra.

Any discussion of Nancy Sinatra logically begins with the song turned anthem for the women’s lib set.  Undeniably, Nancy Sinatra secured her place in popular culture with her #1 song — These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ in 1966.

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